Research conducted by Australian National University and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker’s Association (NATSIHWA) has identified a decline in the amount of Indigenous health workers.

The study examined data from the 2006 and 2016 Census and concluded that there was an overall decline in Indigenous healthcare workers.

Although the study found the amount of Indigenous healthcare workers increased from 1009 to 1347, when compared to population growth, there was a considerable 13% decline.

The research also examined demographic factors such as age, gender and jurisdiction.

The results highlighted the increase of Indigenous healthcare professionals over the age of 45, however, there was a significant decline in the number of young healthcare workers.

It concluded that the population of Indigenous of healthcare workers grew 6.5% in New South Wales and a smaller 4.2% in Queensland. However, it significantly declined in the Northern Territory, dropping 11%.

ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health researcher, Alyson Wright stated the research was a “call to action”, asking for increased educational opportunities for Indigenous people in the health sector.

She believes the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healthcare workers is critical to improving Indigenous health outcomes.

“They provide what is considered culturally safe practices and care … Often, they are working out in the community, and being the link between what is happening in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and the health service community,” Wright said.

CEO of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association, Karl Briscoe shares this belief.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers are critical to delivering culturally appropriate care. They can reduce communication gaps, improve follow-up practices, help with medical advice and provide cultural education.”

Wright hopes that the partnership between ANU and NATSIHWA can be extended to research the Indigenous healthcare workforce more intimately.

The results of this research were published, on the 29th of January, in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

By Rachael Knowles